Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
June 13, 2002
For South African widows, truth without justice
They still wait for reparations -- while the killers walk free
Six years after she first appeared before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to tell the story of her husband's death, Nomonde Calata is still hoping, if faintly, for some sort of closure to the case.

"I don't think it will ever end," said Calata, 43, whose husband, Fort, was one of four antiapartheid activists killed in 1985 by a government death squad. "We are still waiting for the perpetrators to be judged for what they did."

In going before the truth commission, Calata and the other widows of the group that came to be known as the Cradock Four had hoped to achieve some sort of justice concerning their families' sacrifices. But like many South Africans, she was unsatisfied by the results.

She now knows the identities of her husband's killers, a team of security police officers from Port Elizabeth. Although the truth commission rejected their claim for amnesty, the former police were never charged for the killings. They still walk free.

The widows, along with 18,000 other victims of apartheid violence, have also been waiting for reparations from the government. In its final report, expected to be submitted to President Thabo Mbeki this month, the truth commission will suggest individual compensation from an $80 million fund the government set up years ago to pay reparations.

A family to support

"People are very impatient for the money, and I don't blame them," said Farouk Hoosen, administrator of the President's Fund. "I get calls from them every day."

For Calata, the money would be most welcome. She has been unemployed since giving up her dress-shop job to attend the protracted hearings into the killing of the Cradock Four, who were ambushed, beaten to death, and their bodies burned by the police in such a way as to make it appear they were killed by a rival antiapartheid group.

Calata is not destitute. She lives in Michausdal, a black township outside Cradock, in a tidy house appointed with brass vases, cracked pink Naugahyde furniture, and paintings of seascapes.

Left with three children to raise - the youngest was born after her husband died and is entering her last year in high school - Calata has managed to save enough to send them to college.

"My children want to be well-educated, but it is hard to come up with the funds to send them to school," she said.

'It's so unfair'

Although she is not starving, she is left with the sense that her family has come up short. Her husband was a high school teacher, and his contemporaries who survived the antiapartheid struggle went on to success after the African National Congress won elections in 1994. Now they are government ministers, university presidents and successful businessmen.

"I see those people driving Porsche cars now - you see them on television and they are fat, man, they look beautiful," she said. "You think where they are, and it's so unfair. They never call on the telephone."

Conversely, the seven policemen who sought amnesty for her husband's murder were never charged with the gruesome killing of the Cradock Four. Most are still free, living in their comfortable houses on government pensions.

Once, while shopping in Port Elizabeth, she had the surreal experience of encountering one of the former policemen who admitted killing her husband. She introduced him to her daughter: "This is Eric Taylor, the man who murdered your father."

It is unlikely he will ever be charged. His admissions to the truth commission are inadmissible in court, and the government has insufficient evidence of its own to bring him to justice. home page   
Recent news
  | Africa coverage  |  Archives  |  Afghanistan coverage  |  E-mail from Africa  |  Magazine articles | Photographs  |  Bio 
African Odyssey
  |  Apartheid's Secrets  |  Democracy's Promises  |  The Forgotten Wars  |  Rwanda: Aftermath of Genocide

Copyright 2001-2006 Andrew Maykuth